Thursday, November 29, 2012 2 comments

Jesus’ reasons for washing his disciples feet: KJV versus JST

I found the account in John of Jesus washing the disciples feet to have some interesting features in the JST as compared to the KJV.


4 He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.
 5 After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.
 6 Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet?
 7 Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.
 8 Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.
 9 Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.
 10 Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all.  (John 13:4-10)


8 Peter saith unto him, Thou needest not to wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.
 9 Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.
 10 Jesus saith to him, He that has washed his hands and his head, needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit; and ye are clean, but not all. Now this was the custom of the Jews under their law; wherefore, Jesus did this that the law might be fulfilled.  (JST John 13:8-10)

In the KJV, Peter seems extra stubborn and uncharacteristically rebellious, saying,” Thou shalt never wash my feet.”  His tone is more like what we would imagine Judas Iscariot having.  But the JST substantially softens Peter’s words, showing us that he may have been more concerned about the utility of the act.  Perhaps Peter’s feet had already been washed and a second washing seemed superfluous. 

Also, in the KJV, Jesus’s words, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me” seem petulant, but with Peter’s words moderated, Jesus’s words, though unchanged, seem more explanatory about how the washing brings them together in unity.  If not washing Peter’s feet means Peter has no part with Christ, then washing Peter’s feet means Peter does have part with Christ. (Part with Christ in what manner?)

In the KJV, Jesus says “He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit..”  in the JST, however, Jesus says, “He that has washed his hands and his head, needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit..”  This is interesting; first Peter thinks his feet are already washed and then Jesus insists they aren’t, and when Peter thinks his hands and head need washing, Jesus says they are already washed.  This is a good indication that Jesus is speaking symbolically instead of literally.  I think perhaps having head and hands clean symbolized pure thoughts and pure works, and washing one’s feet symbolized pure direction and goals, corresponding to the Lord's work to bring about the immortality and eternal life of man. 

It must have been comforting to hear Jesus say, “ye are clean, but not all,” about Peter’s progress to that point.  He was clean but not perfect.  I suppose that when we are trying to live the gospel, keep the commandments, and repent of our sins, that would be Jesus’s message to us too.  It would lift our sights higher and build desire in us to be further purified.

The JST also tells us that the washing of the feet was a requirement of Jewish law and that Jesus was fulfilling that law.  This made me curious, and I looked up on the internet to see what the feet washing requirements were in the Jewish law, but I didn’t find anything that required it in conjunction with the Passover.  However, I read in the Jewish Encyclopedia on washing that feet washing was part of more extensive cleansing requirements of the high priests to perform after sending off the scapegoat, and the same extensive cleansing (including feet washing) was required of the one who was to lead away the scapegoat.   It is possible that Jesus was cleansing the disciples in the context of the Day of Atonement, in anticipation of being led away by one a disciple who would betray him to be crucified.   Also, washing of hands and feet were to be done by those who wished to perform priestly duties, or washing of feet might be a simple gesture according to the law of hospitality to travelers.   Whatever it means, it seems the Joseph Smith Translation restored knowledge of yet another way Jesus fulfilled the law during his mortal ministry, even if we don’t have knowledge of what exactly that law was.  While we perhaps don’t need to know what that law was, our dispensation receives greater benefit from the instructions Jesus gave to cleanse the head, hands, and feet (thoughts, deeds, and goals) so that we can have part with Him.
Tuesday, November 27, 2012 3 comments

Great ages of the patriarchs

In the Pearl of Great Price, one of the things that has always puzzled me is why so much time is taken pointing out what age the ancient fathers lived to.  (Methusela, 969 years.  Lamech, 777 years.  Enock, 430 years.  Seth, 912 years.  Jared, 962 years. Adam, 930 years.)  The only reason I can see for it is that they all lived that long.  But if they lived that long, why would they find that data good enough to record?  Obviously it is interesting to us today because we see that humanity used to live longer, but why would they find it interesting to record?  Was it a point of pleasure, like a badge of courage to last so long in the “lone and dreay world”?

To us, these ages are of interest because we see that the lifespan of humanity has been shortened by about a factor of ten.  In Genesis we get this:
And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man,
for that he also is flesh:
yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. (Genesis 6:3)
 In Moses 8, the same verse is rendered differently, giving more insight:
And the Lord said unto Noah: My Spirit shall not always strive with man,
for he shall know that all flesh shall die;
yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years;
and if men do not repent, I will send in the floods upon them. (Moses 8:17)
 In the context of Noah’s life, it seems that the Lord was fed up with man’s shinnanigans and therefore decided to shorten man’s life span.  Perhaps men in Noah’s day thought they had all the time in the world and were delaying their repentance. 

In the context of the Lord’s goals to try to bring men to salvation, perhaps a shortening of the life span would remind men of death and give men a reason to consider what was most important in life (like maybe the gospel) and give them a motivation to fill their lives with the best things instead of wasting the time they had.  Perhaps it was an invitation to hasten the Lord’s work.   From another perspective, if they were filling their lives with wickedness and refusing to repent, these people would have to suffer for their own sins if they didn’t have faith in Christ.  Shortening their life would be merciful act as it would lessen the amount of sins for which they would have to suffer all the consequences in spirit prison.

The long lives also make me think about what I would do with my time if I knew I would probably live in mortality for close to a thousand years.  Would I choose the best things?  Could I endure all the way to the end?  (I suppose that the ancient patriarchs are definitely worthy of praise for enduring in the gospel to the end of their lives.)  

It reminds me of Hugh Nibley’s stories about the essay test he gave his students asking them what they would do with their time if they lived 1000 years, and how they didn’t seem to be interested in living that long, and he wondered how they would make it through eternity if they could only imagine living 100 years or so.  I suppose that a life not spent living the gospel would become a burden of absolute boredom, a desperate bid to find something to pass the time.  Also, we look forward to spending eternity in a celestialized existence to which even the joys of mortality are unworthy to be compared.  

I think ultimately we learn from these scriptures that the Lord has control over life span.  I’m thankful to know this; it reminds me that the Lord has a plan for us with time for it to be carried out, and that He has the mercy to give us time to repent of our sins.
Tuesday, November 20, 2012 2 comments

Left to themselves

 11 Now this great loss of the Nephites, and the great slaughter which was among them, would not have happened had it not been for their wickedness and their abomination which was among them; yea, and it was among those also who professed to belong to the church of God.
 12 And it was because of the pride of their hearts, because of their exceeding riches, yea, it was because of their oppression to the poor, withholding their food from the hungry, withholding their clothing from the naked, and smiting their humble brethren upon the cheek, making a mock of that which was sacred, denying the spirit of prophecy and of revelation, murdering, plundering, lying, stealing, committing adultery, rising up in great contentions, and deserting away into the land of Nephi, among the Lamanites—
 13 And because of this their great wickedness, and their boastings in their own strength, they were left in their own strength; therefore they did not prosper, but were afflicted and smitten, and driven before the Lamanites, until they had lost possession of almost all their lands.
 14 But behold, Moronihah did preach many things unto the people because of their iniquity, and also Nephi and Lehi, who were the sons of Helaman, did preach many things unto the people, yea, and did prophesy many things unto them concerning their iniquities, and what should come unto them if they did not repent of their sins. (Helaman 4:11-14)

In these verses, Mormon tells how the Nephites would not have lost their lands in battle to the Lamanites if they hadn’t been wicked, and he lists the wickedness that lost them their possessions and ends up with the observation that boasting in their own strength caused them to be left to themselves.  But based on the previous list of wicked things they were doing, it is evident that their “strength” was actually weakness.

Since I don’t want to focus on the negative right now, I’m going to take each of the elements in the list, point out the opposite virtue, then show how the virtue makes strong.

Pride à humility.  Humility makes strong because it involves a true idea of what your abilities are, no more, no less.  Humility allows you to appreciate skill greater than your own and allows you to aspire to improve and take instruction.

Exceeding riches à exceeding poverty.  Exceeding poverty makes strong because it pushes one to continuous effort to provide for one’s self.  It builds creativity and resourcefulness. 

Oppression to the poor à Nurturing the poor.  Nurturing the poor builds strength in that it helps one expand one’s concerns past the narrow confines of self.

Withholding food à imparting food.  Imparting food builds strength in that it teaches one how to cook for larger numbers, it increases skills of hospitality, and it expands ability to have compassion on others.

Withholding clothing from the naked à Giving clothing to the naked.  Giving clothing builds strength by increasing ability to have compassion and helping one realize what clothing is really needed.  It makes one strong enough to live with less.

Smiting humble brethren on the cheek à Lifting up the hands that hang down.  Lifting up the hands that hang down builds strength because it requires that one look outside oneself to understand the struggles of other people and find ways to encourage them.

Making a mock of the sacred à Reverencing the sacred.  Reverencing the sacred makes us stronger because it teaches us to adapt our behavior in the presence of greatness.  It builds our humility and ability to appreciate spiritual things.  It prevents us from becoming creatures dominated only by the physical and temporal.  It allows us to transcend the material.

Denying the spirit of prophecy and revelation à Affirming and cultivating the spirit of prophecy and revelation.  Affirming and cultivating prophecy and revelation makes us strong because it leaves us open to greater wisdom that comes from above.  It opens our minds to the possibilities of hope in redemption and exaltation even though we don’t see with our eyes the events that made it possible.  Hope for the future galvanizes us to act with faith to prepare and change and do things impossible or improbable for the natural man.

Murdering à Giving life/having mercy/saving life.  Those things make us strong because through them we affirm that we are not the only ones deserving to live.  It calls for greater efforts to work out conflicts.  It calls out our capabilities for altruism and heroic self-sacrifice.

Plundering à Giving.  Giving makes us strong because it gets us out of ourselves and helps us recognize the needs of others.  It also tends to decrease our own estimation of what we need.

Lying à Telling the truth.  Telling the truth makes us strong by strengthening our ability to communicate with others and see the truth about ourselves.  It can lead to greater humility.

Stealing à Asking.  Asking strengthens us by requiring us to believe in the generosity of others, that they will understand our need, have compassion, and give.  It requires us to be clear about our needs (versus our wants).

Committing adultery à Chastity and fidelity.  Chastity and fidelity make us strong because they teach us to control our passions and to focus them in ways that build a strong family unit.  They help us strengthen our ability to love even when it gets hard.  It requires us to learn to appreciate and strengthen a seasoned and mature relationship where time-tested trust is a factor.

Rising up in great contentions à Making peace.  Making peace brings strength because the effort requires us to understand the roots of the conflict, who the parties of the conflict are, how to negociate, and how to reassure and act in ways that build trust and dissolve concerns.  It requires developing enough of an understand of both sides in order to find common ground.

Deserting away à Remaining loyal in one’s post.  Remaining loyal requires one to search for the good in what is currently irritationg and find better reasons for staying than for leaving.  It builds strength to stick it out even when circumstances are uncomfortable.

Now, having examined what kind of strength can come from those different virtues, we also should be able to understand the weakness that would result from breaking the associated commandments.  Thus, when we are told in verse 13 that the Nephites boasted in their own strength (even as they broke the commandments), we see how idiotic they were, and it should be no wonder to us that “they did not prosper, but were afflicted and smitten and driven.”

This shows me that the strength of a community or a state or a nation is the sum total of the strength of the individuals in it, and that strength is based on virtues and keeping the commandments.  For me, a practical message I get from this is if certain afflictions may be rooted in failure to keep the commandments, then I can overcome them with greater faithfulness.  Also, it reminds me of something I've noticed in my own life that when I boast (even internally) of my own strength, I am quickly brought to realize how weak I really am.  It is as if the impulse to boast is a sign of weakness, a sign that I have deceived myself into believing that I am strong when I am not.

Friday, November 16, 2012 0 comments

Whosoever that looketh to lust: KJV with JST versus Book of Mormon

 In these verses, Jesus expounds the higher law that one should not look on a woman (or anyone, I suppose) to lust, and looking to lust was to commit adultery in the heart.  However, Matthew and 3 Nephi have different attending explanations that seem to have different emphases.

KJV with JST:

27 ¶Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:
 28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.
 29 And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
 30 And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.  And now this I speak, a parable concerning your sins; wherefore, cast them from you, that ye may not be hewn down and cast into the fire.
 (Matt 5:27-30, JST added in green)

Book of Mormon:

27 Behold, it is written by them of old time, that thou shalt not commit adultery;
 28 But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman, to lust after her, hath committed adultery already in his heart.
 29 Behold, I give unto you a commandment, that ye suffer none of these things to enter into your heart;
 30 For it is better that ye should deny yourselves of these things, wherein ye will take up your cross, than that ye should be cast into hell. (3 Nephi 12:27-30)

I notice that the KJV has “hath committed adultery with her,” but the Book of Mormon has only “hath committed adultery.”  The KJV “with her” seems to imply that the woman participates too, but the Book of Mormon doesn’t, leaving the impression that it is all the man’s (or onlooker’s) sin.

3 Nephi doesn’t have anything about plucking out eyes or cutting off hands, so perhaps the Jews needed the extra vivid language more than the Nephites did.  Concerning this intense imagery, the JST gives us the info that Jesus was not speaking literally, which is a relief.  (We suspect it was the case, but it is nice to know for sure, since there have been people who have taken the extreme view from time to time.)  Learning it is a parable about our sins invites us to look deeper.

Comparing our sins to parts of our bodies shows that Jesus knew our sins can be so much a part of us that the prospect of repenting can seem as devastating as losing an eye or our dominant hand, such that we may ask ourselves, “What am I going to do instead?” especially when it is a favorite way of releasing tension, coping with stress or difficulty, relaxing, having fun, or passing time that weighs heavily on our hands.

I also think that Jesus’ choice of body parts in that parable is not accidental.  The eye is the way we see the world and our perspective, which means it is really about how we think, so Jesus meant we have to cast away sinful thoughts.  The hand is about the things we do, so I think Jesus mean we have to cast away evil deeds.  Evil deeds and evil thoughts that have become attached to us like body parts qualify for the terms “bad habits” and “addictions.”  Seen this way, we can understand why Jesus would use such extreme language about plucking out and cutting off. 

The Book of Mormon’s additions add more to this idea.

29 Behold, I give unto you a commandment, that ye suffer none of these things to enter into your heart;
 30 For it is better that ye should deny yourselves of these things, wherein ye will take up your cross, than that ye should be cast into hell. (3 Nephi 12:29-30)

Jesus makes it a commandment to guard our hearts so that we keep lust (and other ungodly desires) from entering.  AS someone has said before, maybe the bird lands on your head, but you can keep it from building a nest there. 

It is clear Jesus recognizes the difficulty of keeping this commandment, especially if there have been previous problems.  He calls it “tak[ing] up your cross.”  That implies to me a daily burden, a decision made every day that requires great care and self-denial.  I love that He says taking up that cross is better than being cast into hell because it exalts that painful watchfulness into a legitimate part of His higher law.  Thus, anyone who is recovering from an addiction need not think of the hard work of vigilance they do to stay clean as something that only brings them up to the level of ordinary morality.  Rather, it puts them on the higher way—Jesus’s way.  It is, after all, what He commanded as part of the higher law. 

I’m rather stunned to discover this.  I never thought of it in that way before!  What do you think?

Bonus: I found a neat PDF of Semitic idioms in the Bible that explains the meaning of some phrases that are odd in the KJV because they were idioms literally translated instead of explained.  Very instructive; I recommend it.  (It even had a bit about the plucking out of eyes and cutting off of hands, showing that it was an Aramaic idiom meaning about the same as stated above.)
Wednesday, November 14, 2012 4 comments

How can we tell when we’re being judgmental?

This was submitted to me by someone who wishes to remain anonymous.  The points made have really resonated with me, so I felt it was important to post it.

Some recent events in my family have presented me with a front-row seat and even a participatory role in troubled relationships and after pondering (i.e. stewing and obsessing over) what happened, trying to understand where I went wrong, and trying to separate that from what others have done to hurt me, I’ve begun to realize the wrong I did happened because I have been judgmental.

Sometimes it is really hard for us to tell when we are being judgmental.  We can see pretty well when other people are doing it, but when we are doing it, we would bristle if someone else told us we were.

Thankfully, I remembered President Uchtdorf’s talk “The Merciful Obtain Mercy” in April 2012 conference, the one in which he gives that two word instruction, “Stop it.”  I didn’t remember him saying much about being judgmental, but I checked the rest of his talk and found just what I needed to know.  In fact, he laid it all out for us so we can tell when we are being judgmental. 

“When we feel hurt, angry, or envious, it is quite easy to judge other people, often assigning dark motives to their actions in order to justify our own feelings of resentment.”

There it is—being judgmental is to assign dark motives to other people’s actions.

“But when it comes to our own prejudices and grievances, we too often justify our anger as righteous and our judgment as reliable and only appropriate.  Though we cannot look into another’s heart, we assume that we know a bad motive or even a bad person when we see one.  We make exceptions when it comes to our own bitterness because we feel that, in our case, we have all the information we need to hold someone else in contempt.”

There’s how it happened—I assumed that I had all the information I needed to assign those dark motives, even though I can’t look into another’s heart.  (To really look into another person’s heart requires discernment, which is one of the gifts of the Spirit and comes from God, and it therefore will be exhibited with charity, not hostility or contempt.) 

That’s how every judgmental thing I’ve said or did has happened.  And here’s another thing—I’ve realized I’ve frequently been judgmental of myself, assigning dark motives to myself, which is really strange.   You’d think I’d know my own heart, but often I fail to take all circumstances into account when I judge myself—like failing to take into account my own ignorance, or ignoring the forces and influences that exert pressure on me, or expecting that if everything I do doesn’t come easily there’s something wrong with me, or expecting more of myself than I’d expect of another person in my circumstances. 

I’ve learned through personal experience that we can’t reach out to rescue the lost if we are simultaneously judging them for being lost.  We can’t lift and inspire the people around us if we hold them in contempt for breaking commandments of which they know little to nothing. 

A number of years ago when road rage was becoming more and more talked about, I heard someone share what they did to try to keep from getting angry at aggressive drivers.  They said that when an aggressive driver cut them off to an exit or tail-gated them, they tried to make up stories about what circumstances might be leading the aggressive driver to feel like they had to drive like that.  Maybe the aggressive driver just found out their wife had been taken to the hospital.  Maybe they had a job interview to go to.  Maybe they were late for a plane.  That advice stuck with me, and it is one reason I’ve been able to avoid road rage. 

At the heart of that advice is the principle that the stories we tell ourselves about why people act the way they do plays a big part in the way we think about them and guides us in choosing the way we treat them.  And as President Uchtdorf said, we hardly ever have all the facts about what they did, why they did it, what they know about right and wrong, and so on. 

Moral decadence is increasing in our society, which means that not only will we be tempted by it, we will be tempted to be judgmental of it.  To carve a safe place for ourselves when moral decadence is increasing means we will have to develop the ability to communicate our values without being judgmental.

Here are some judgmental assumptions we may make, which will definitely color our communication:
·      They’ll get mad if I ask them to stop.
·      They won’t care if I ask them to stop.
·      If I try to tell them why we think it is wrong, they won’t understand.
·      If I try to explain, they won’t want to listen.
·      Even if they do understand, they’ll do it anyway, just to make me uncomfortable.

Instead, we must assume bravely:
·      They’ll be curious and want to understand particulars if I am kind and show concern for them.
·      They’ll be willing to listen.
·      They’ll try to understand if I communicate well enough.
·      If they understand, they will care enough to help me and want to change what’s wrong.
·      If they can’t or won’t stop, there must be something that makes it very difficult for them that I don’t know about.

Let’s take some examples of different cases when there is a temptation to be judgmental and examine the assumptions that bring this about. 

We just had an election and President Obama was re-elected president.  It is tempting to form some kind of conclusion that the majority of Americans are choosing evil instead of good.  But that would be formed on a number of assumptions:
  • President Obama is evil. (But he’s not.  He’s human just like anyone else, and he has a lot of pressure on him.)
  • The Americans who chose Obama over Romney are bad.  (But they’re not.  There are a variety of reasons Obama won.  Christian Science Monitorcompiled a list of twelve reasons they saw for it, some were Obama’s positives, some were Romney’s negatives, and some were additional factors you wouldn’t expect.)

The stories that we tell ourselves about people who have different political ideologies and priorities are going to impact the way we treat them.  Are we going to let disappointment about Romney’s loss color how we treat our fellow Americans, most of whom we don’t know?  Romney’s loss does not equate to a rejection of the gospel of Christ, rejection of the church, or rejection of Latter-day Saints as a people. 

Another example: When I visited my parents two weeks ago, I learned that my parents were having troubles in their marriage.  The atmosphere in their home seemed emotionally cold.  My parents’ conversation with each other felt strained, even when they expressed affection for each other.  The first week I was helping my dad around the house.  Somehow he seemed to withdraw from me and I felt many of my suggestions to him were ignored.  I didn’t know why, but I felt that he was treating me just like he had when I was a teenager when I had done something wrong that he didn’t approve of.   When I helped my mom the next week, she unloaded on me a lot of things that she was frustrated about with my dad.  Because I had just experienced being ignored by my dad, I found myself identifying more with her issues than I had before, and I began to ascribe to him an insensitive and uncaring nature, one that was only concerned about protecting his own ego.  In the heat of my agitation, I said some very judgmental things to my dad, thinking that I was doing my mom a favor by expressing things I thought my mom would want said.   I look back at it now as an epic failure, when judgmental-ness won. 

Also while visiting my parents, I learned from one of my brothers that he didn’t believe in the church any more.  It hurt to know that he rejected something that was so dear to me.  But having just been working through President Monson’s biography To the Rescue, I felt that I should at least try to reach out to my brother.  I didn’t know how to do it.  I got the idea to ask him the question, “Even if you don’t believe in the church, what do you believe in?”  I didn’t know what to expect, and I suspected I would have to do a lot of listening, and I just hoped that I could keep from feeling threatened enough to keep listening.  I suspected that he needed to feel heard.  So I asked him, and that started a conversation in which he told me things that he said he had never told anyone else, and he allowed me to share gospel principles that would help him.  In one way, it was just as disturbing as the situation with my parents, but from the perspective of avoiding being judgmental, it was an absolute triumph. 

There have been times I held back from sharing the gospel with somebody because I assumed they wouldn’t listen.  I’ve realized that was a judgmental assumption to make.  I also recognize this has become kind of a thought habit for me and instead I will need to practice assuming people will be curious about the gospel.

I’ve felt the need to stand up for my standards, but looking back I can see the difference between when I did it in a judgmental way and when I did it with respect and kindness.  Speaking judgmentally rarely went over well and when rebuffed (as I probably deserved), I went into a bruised hunker-down-it’s-us-against-the-world mentality of defensiveness.  On the other hand, when I made my concerns known with the assumption they (whoever they were) would understand, feel the same way, and help, then I had a lot more success.  For instance, when I object to a magazine cover in a grocery line, I assume that the clerk had no control over its placement and I let him or her know the revealing clothing of the magazine model makes me uncomfortable.  I ask him or her to let the store manager know.  When I have expressed myself this way, without fail the clerk has confided to me that same magazine made them uncomfortable too!  They promise they will pass my concerns along and I know that I have not alienated them.

Throughout life there will be many times when we see people do wrong things.  Sometimes we will be in a position to correct them and even have the responsibility to do so, in which case we will have to communicate very carefully, reproving clearly, with persuasion and meekness, showing an increase of love afterward.   Most of the time, however, we will not be able to do anything about it.  It will be very tempting to be judgmental, but we can’t do that without condemning ourselves for judging unrighteously—judging without any of the facts.

Our tendency to judge others often takes us by surprise. If we see a teenager boy with orange-dyed hair spiked in a mohawk, almost without thinking we say to ourselves, "Oh, he must be rebellious." It is up to us to recognize what we are doing, remind ourselves of our ignorance, and begin constructing a more favorable mental narrative on their behalf.  There are other explanations for the hair that might make sense if we knew what they were.  Perhaps that orange-spikey hair is a loud plea to be noticed.  Perhaps it represents a soul so bruised that he wishes to intimidate people so that they will not bully him.  We don't need to excuse the hair, we only need to understand it.

Here are some steps I’ve thought of to help avoid being judgmental:
1.     When you find yourself making a judgment about someone, ask yourself what assumptions you are basing your judgment on.
2.     Examine your assumptions about that person.  Are you assuming good things about the person or bad things?  Are you assuming they have good motives or bad motives?  Assigning dark motives and evil intent leads to being judgmental.
3.     Remind yourself that you do not know all the facts.
4.     Remind yourself that the person may not understand that what they are doing is wrong.  (Ask yourself, “How easy does our culture make it to learn right and wrong?”) 
5.     Remind yourself that you do not know the person and the struggles they are going through.
6.     Try to imagine what combination of events or process of inner struggle may have brought that behavior out, or try to imagine what inner drives are at work.
7.     Remind yourself that the person is a beloved child of God just like you.
8.     Realize that the characteristic you judge in someone else is something you fear within yourself, something you hope you never have to deal with, or something you hope you got over.
9.     Forgive the person and pray for them.
10. Accept that the person just is who they are, a complex being.
11. Love them.  Remember that just as you deserve to be loved, so do other people deserve to be loved.  It is unreasonable to expect a person to be perfect before you can love them.

What experiences have you had in which you were able to overcome the tendency to be judgmental?
Sunday, November 11, 2012 0 comments

Lessons from Coriantumr’s protection

You know how sometimes you take something for granted in the scriptures and then all of a sudden you see it with new eyes and it astounds you?  One of the things that I recently was struck by in the book of Ether is that Coriantumr survived so many years of battle when his enemies seemed to keep dying.  Coriantumr seems to be unkillable, although he gets really close to death in several instances. 

Now, I know you are probably thinking, “Duh!  Ether prophesied that every living soul would be destroyed except Coriantumr if he didn’t repent!”  Well, just humor me for a while on this, ‘kay?

I started looking for all the times Coriantumr could have been killed, but wasn’t:
1.     Shared brought him into captivity instead of killing him (Ether 13:23)
2.     Shared wounded Coriantumr in the thigh before Coriantumr killed him. (Ether 13:30-31)
3.     When Gilead broke through the siege on his men and killed part of Coriantumr’s army, it seems it wasn’t the part where Coriantumr was camped. (Ether 14:5)
4.     Lib wounded Coriantumr in the arm, but didn’t kill him, and Coriantumr’s army pushed Lib’s army back. (Ether 14:12)
5.     Shiz gave Coriantumr many deep wounds, which caused Coriantumr to faint with the loss of blood and be carried away as though he were dead, but he didn’t kill him. (Ether 14:30)
6.     There was another battle in which Coriantumr was wounded again and fainted with the loss of blood (Ether 15:9), but Coriantumr’s army pushed back Shiz’s army.
7.     When it gets right down to Shiz versus Coriantumr, the only reason Coriantumr could kill Shiz was that Shiz had fainted with the loss of blood. (Ether 15:29-30)

He has more arch-enemies than anyone has any right to have—Shared, Gilead, Lib, and Shiz.  And more people wanted him dead even before the prophecy was given.

Coriantumr’s seeming invulnerability does not come from righteousness, but rather it is directly because the Lord spares his life.  And we know it is the Lord sparing his life because of the prophecy that Ether made to Coriantumr as recorded in Ether 13:20-21.

20 And in the second year the word of the Lord came to Ether, that he should go and prophesy unto Coriantumr that, if he would repent, and all his household, the Lord would give unto him his kingdom and spare the people—
 21 Otherwise they should be destroyed, and all his household save it were himself. And he should only live to see the fulfilling of the prophecies which had been spoken concerning another people receiving the land for their inheritance; and Coriantumr should receive a burial by them; and every soul should be destroyed save it were Coriantumr.

Now, here’s the interesting question--why was this promise given to Coriantumr if he was wicked?  Having one’s life spared is a blessing we usually think of as reserved for the righteous.  Why was he privileged to escape and the others perish? 

After thinking about it some, I realized that it had to do with how difficult it was for him and his people to believe in things they could not see.  “And it came to pass that Ether did prophesy great and marvelous things unto the people, which they did not believe, because they saw them not.” (Ether 12:5)

It’s as if the Lord finally said, “FINE!  You don’t believe you must repent or the people will be destroyed?  You don’t believe that your great society can be displaced by another people?  If you do not repent, Coriantumr, I will keep you alive to see the people destroyed.  You can’t believe without seeing?  Okay, you are going to see it.”

I think this is why such emphasis is put on faith and believing in the few chapters leading up to the Jaredite demise.  We are given many positive examples of the marvelous acts done by faith and then come the end battles of the Jaredites so we see the consequences of disbelief.  The Lord wants us to hold onto faith, repent, and avoid that ugly end.

The prophecy that Coriantumr would live until the Jaredites were destroyed was something that would perfectly appeal to a society of fighters.  It was something that could be tested again and again and no doubt word got around about it.  It would also ensure Coriantumr would never have any peace.  He was like the gunfighter of the Old West with the fastest draw who is has to watch his back all the time because every other aspiring gunfighter is eager to test themselves against him.  For instance, Coriantumr’s last arch-enemy had two goals—one was to avenge his brother Lib whom Coriantumr killed in battle, and the other was to disprove the word of the Lord from Ether that Coriantumr would not be slain by the sword (see Ether 14:24).

It is notable that Coriantumr didn’t have to see all his people killed before he came to himself.  Unfortunately, two million people had to die before he started to see that so far all the prophecies were being fulfilled.  But even though he tried to end the killing, by then it was too late.  The wars had taken on their own momentum and he couldn’t stop it.  There’s an important lesson here that there is a window of time provided for repentance, and if we don’t repent while we can, we may pass the point of no return when the consequences pull us down further into the abyss in spite of ourselves.  That is truly sobering.

It is interesting that when Coriantumr offered the kingdom to Shiz to spare the people that Shiz insisted on no deal unless Coriantumr would let Shiz personally lop off his head.  From the perspective of the gospel, it is the ultimate test of a ruler—are they selfless enough to give themselves up to save their people?  If Coriantumr had accepted Shiz’s terms, he would have become a type of Christ.  There is no telling what would have happened then.  Perhaps his life would have been miraculously saved.  Or maybe he would have died after all and the Jaredite civilization would have survived longer.  Or maybe Shiz would still have destroyed the people anyway.  Again, no way of knowing. 

Coriantumr’s situation was quite tragic in that when he had finally decided he wanted to repent, his efforts to seek peace for his people put him in a double bind—if he took Shiz’s terms it seemed he would lose his life and if he rejected them, his people would continue to be killed according to prophecy.   This would have been a difficult choice for a righteous king, but for a person as spiritually unprepared as Coriantumr, who probably had lived a life as far from sacrifice as you can get, the choice would be virtually impossible.   Looking at it from the perspective of calculated risk, it is not surprising that he chose to reject Shiz’s terms, preferring to continue fighting rather than sacrifice his life on the promise of mercy from a hitherto rarely merciful Shiz, a man who had destroyed many cities and killed women and children without compunction.


Here’s another part of Ether’s prophecy to Coriantumr that intrigued me—the part that promised him the kingdom if he and his household repented.  It might seem like the promise was meaningless since Coriantumr already had the kingdom and he remained in command of significant numbers of people to the end of the war.  However, if we look closer, we can see certain events that indicate that Coriantumr lost the kingdom fairly early on and never regained it even though he persisted in acting as though he had full possession of it. 

Coriantumr lost the kingdom to Shared within three years of the time Ether was kicked out.  Yes, Coriantumr’s sons got him the kingdom back, but by then Coriantumr had lost the power to enforce peace among the people, as it says that “he did not go to battle again for the space of two years, in which time all the people upon the face of the land were shedding blood, and there was none to restrain them” (Ether 13:31).  This also suggests that he had lost monarchical power to execute justice. 

The next indication we see is of the brother of Shared (named Gilead) outmaneuvering Coriantumr and placing himself on Coriantumr’s throne.  Yet, this is a hollow victory and as time goes on, the constant chasing back and forth and around of armies makes the holding of a throne (or any kind of stable capital location) impossible and even meaningless. 

Next, Coriantumr loses friendly territory as Shiz overthrows and burns many cities, and with the murder of the women and children that keep the home front together, he loses the productive capacity to support his army’s perpetual campaigning.  And finally, he loses control and loyalty of people; many of them file off to join his enemy Shiz, since it seems that Coriantumr can’t protect them from Shiz’s depredations.  By the time Coriantumr starts to repent of the evil he’d done, for all practical purposes he is no longer a king but a warlord-general.  Yet he parleys with Shiz offering the kingdom, as if he had anything besides people to give.  By all means, appearances of monarchy must be kept up.

Coriantumr’s loss of the kingdom has an important lesson—the Lord is in charge, and power is held at His sufferance and can be taken away when the Lord pleases.

All in all, we should in no way count Coriantumr fortunate or blessed to have his life spared through the Jaredite destruction.  It was a curse to him instead of a blessing.  From him we learn it is much better to believe the Lord’s warnings and repent than to be stubborn just because we don’t see the bad consequences coming yet.  We also learn that there is a window of time given for repentance beyond which the consequences drag us down further.

What lessons do you derive from Coriantumr’s life?
Friday, November 9, 2012 1 comments

When the task should have been easy but wasn’t

45 And straightway he constrained his disciples to get into the ship, and to go to the other side before unto Bethsaida, while he sent away the people.
 46 And when he had sent them away, he departed into a mountain to pray.
 47 And when even was come, the ship was in the midst of the sea, and he alone on the land.
 48 And he saw them toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them: and about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea, and would have passed by them.
 49 But when they saw him walking upon the sea, they supposed it had been a spirit, and cried out:
 50 For they all saw him, and were troubled. And immediately he talked with them, and saith unto them, Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid.
 51 And he went up unto them into the ship; and the wind ceased: and they were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered.
 52 For they considered not the miracle of the loaves: for their heart was hardened. (Mark 6:45-52)

This block of verses describes when Jesus sent the disciples to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee while He sent the multitude away.  The disciples get caught in a headwind and Christ walks on the water to them and the wind ceased.

This incident seemed like an odd one at first glance.  It seemed like Jesus decided to walk on the water as an extra convenience or to show the apostles what He could do.  But I thought, “No, when Jesus does a miracle, He does it for a useful purpose.”  So I tried to see what purpose it could have served.

Right away I noticed that the apostles were doing what Jesus had specifically asked them to do—take a ship to the other side.  Some of them were experienced boatmen, so this should have been an easy command to obey, right?  But it so happened that circumstances were against them—there was a contrary wind and they had to struggle against that for quite a while.  I think Jesus watched their progress and their difficulty and had compassion on them and walked out there to help them out.

I think it also was meant to teach them that even if they were inadequate in certain circumstances for a task He had set them, He would be with them and help them succeed in a miraculous way.  They could have gathered his from the earlier miracle of the loaves and fishes, but they didn’t think about that.  (I wonder how many times we marvel at a miracle when we’ve had previous miracles that should have taught us the same lesson?)

After noticing this, I really love this story because I see it in my own life.  There are things I consider myself fairly expert at, yet sometimes when I’m in the middle of trying to do them, I find circumstances against me and I struggle much more than usual.  This story shows me that there is no need to think less of myself for that.  Rather, I can look to the Lord who watches all my efforts, and I can still pray and get divine help.  He will have compassion and help me without upbraiding me. 

Monday, November 5, 2012 0 comments

Coming to Christ: KJV versus JST

No man can come to me,
except the Father which hath sent me draw him:
and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:44)
No man can come unto me,
except he doeth the will of my Father who hath sent me.
And this is the will of him who hath sent me, that ye receive the Son;
for the Father beareth record of him;
and he who receiveth the testimony,
and doeth the will of him who sent me,
I will raise up in the resurrection of the just. (JST John 6:44)
There are a lot of changes in this verse to appreciate.

Difference #1: The KJV makes it seem like it is all dependent on the Father to draw a person to Christ and the person has no choice in the matter.  The JST clarifies that every person has to receive the testimony and receive the Son and do the will of the Father to come to Christ.

Difference #2: The KJV tells us that the Father draws people, but it is not specific about how.  The JST shows us that the Father bears record of the Son, so we learn it is testimony of Christ that draws people to Christ.

Difference #3: The KJV makes us think that everyone will be saved.  We think, “Surely the Father will draw all men, so we don’t have to worry.”  The JST shows us that the responsibility of accepting and receiving Christ is all on us and we know that some will refuse.

Difference #4: The KJV makes us think that only those who have come to Christ will be raised up (resurrected) at the last day, but the JST clarifies that those who come to Christ will be resurrected with the just.  That implies there is also a time of resurrection for the unjust.

Also, I notice in the JST that Jesus mentions three times that the Father sent him.  I think this is meant to show how Christ gives the credit and glory to God as well as how He emphasizes His authority that comes from His Father.  Jesus wants to press home the point that He has been sent by God.

I also like that Christ says, “I will raise up” those who receive the testimony and do the will of the Father.  It informs us that Christ has the power to resurrect others.

I think it is interesting that receiving the Son and coming to Christ are shown to be two separate things, and receiving the Son is done before coming to Christ.  That means that receiving the Son is accepting the testimony of Christ into our hearts such that we begin to act to do the Father’s will and keep the commandments, repent, and progress in the first principles of the gospel.

I’m glad we have this because of the important information it gives us about the very preliminary steps of responding to testimony of Christ.  It draws a line between the God’s responsibility and our responsibility and points out how we begin to make choices to believe at the very beginning.